Investigating the art + tech ecosystem in Silicon Valley

Updated: Jun 15, 2020

By Dr. Nadav Hochman, Principal Investigator, The Grid Art + Tech Report 2019

November, 2019

Silicon Valley is the global epicenter for technological innovation. Historically located in the southern part of the San Francisco Bay Area around the city of San Jose, Silicon Valley is home to over 2,000 technology companies - the largest concentration in the United States. In 2018 these companies employed 387,000 people, or more than 30% of the local private sector workforce. Home to six of the world’s top 10 most valuable technology companies and recipient in recent years of as much as 46% of US venture capital investment, Silicon Valley has in the last ten years exploded in size as it has grown to the north to include San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley - the traditional economic and cultural centers of the San Francisco Bay Area. With a new crop of multi-billion dollar tech companies such as Twitter, Uber, and AirBnB making their homes in San Francisco, the urban core of the Bay Area has seen an unprecedented explosion of wealth - and along with it the forces of gentrification pushing out historical communities.

One group which is feeling the brunt of the tech industry’s explosive economic pressure on the region, is the local creative community. Since the city’s beginning as a Gold Rush boom town, wealthy San Franciscans have proudly acted as patrons of the arts, such as in the establishment of world-renowned institutions like the de Young Museum and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Since World War II, the region has birthed countless cultural and aesthetic move-ments that have continued to shape the artistic world today - from San Francisco’s Beat Generation, to Berkeley’s Free Speech Movement, to Oakland’s Black Panther Party, to the region’s championing of queer communities and Outsider Art. It is in this incredibly rich cultural backdrop that the Silicon Valley innovation ecosystem has come to thrive in the region, yet it is by its very success that rents have steeply risen and creative communities have been increasingly pushed out. But what if the priorities of Silicon Valley and creative communities were not opposing but instead symbiotic? What if the transformative technologies and resources of Silicon Valley were harnessed to not just support the arts, but instead transform the very role and nature of the arts themselves?

This report serves to identify the myriad extant models of collaboration between technology com-panies and the arts in the San Francisco Bay Area, both recognizing the ingenuity of current collaborations and identifying opportunities for deeper, more impactful synergies between these two worlds. Our methodology for this identification includes interviews with key stakeholders within companies which support artists and an online survey released to a wider audience. It outlines insights gathered from interviews as well as suggesting possible roles the EU can take on to help support not only art and technology in the Bay Area, but also abroad to its member countries. It is apparent from the qualitative data gathered that not only are companies very interested in supporting the arts, there is also much an external organization can do to help with the arts in technology.

We identified that artists within tech companies play vital roles in stimulating innovation, contributing to company culture and as a proving ground for new technologies. Some common hurdles companies face include finding internal funding, connecting artists to other companies, educating management on the value of artists and measuring the impact of arts programs in a qualitative way. Our recommendations and insights for Europe's role in technology and art include providing an organization to connect companies with each other, help companies and their artists with introductions and exhibition opportunities with European cultural institutions and by continuing to support the arts as they have in the past. We concluded that there is great excitement within companies to collaborate with artists who use technology and believe that The Grid can act in the Bay Area through future initiatives to both support current programs and foster new ones.

Introduction to Art + Tech Report 2019 by Dr. Nadav Hochman, Principal Investigator Art + Tech Report 2019

The Grid Art + Tech Report is co-authored by Dr. Nadav Hochman and Alex Reben

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